TNW: The next generation of the web
Covid was a challenging time for the events industry. How did TNW deal with the difficulties presented by the pandemic, and how are you moving forward?
“Although TNW is an events company, that is just one of our four pillars. The others are media, co-working spaces of which we run three in Amsterdam, and innovation programmes. That structure helped us through the pandemic, as did our partnership with the Financial Times. Without them, I’m not sure TNW would still exist in its current form. The pandemic hit the events industry hard and that is a key part of our business.
We pivoted to organising online events and did a hybrid conference last year. However, we found that that doesn’t work as well for an event of our size. So this year we’re going back to fully live and in person.
Fortunately, we were able to be flexible in taking decisions. Even though we are part of the FT Group, we act as an independent company and we’re able to react quickly. We also receveived government support in the Netherlands which was very helpful.
What we are experiencing is a different feel in the industry, with some people less eager to travel, which has led us to look at further expantion to other European markets.
There’s room for more TNW conferences across Europe, in other regions, without cannibalising our current event in Amsterdam. Our conference setupevent is very strong, because it builds on the power of the local ecosystem. So when we branch out to other markets, we’re not limited to Amsterdam, but can easily move across Europe. Bringing those people together, and making connections on the global level, that’s where we really shine. And we know that if we have the right partners, and the right governments that believe in empowering their ecosystems, then we can recreate our success in other regions.”
What sort of turnout are you expecting at TNW this year?
“In 2019, pre-pandemic, we had around 15,000 attendees at our conference. Last September, when we went hybrid, we had around 5,000 attendees, and that was our first comeback. This year, we’re aiming for around 10,000 attendees. Even from a revenue perspective, we have more partners lined up for this event than for the 2019 conference. There will be sponsors and exhibitors, and the expo floor will actually be busier than it was in 2019.”
One traditional sweet spot for TNW has been the start-up market. Post-pandemic, what is the environment like for technology start-ups?
We’ve taken some time identifying what we really stand for and who are our target audience is. For us, it is primarily placing the startups and the investor market at the core – and governments and corporates around that. That means we cover almost the whole playing field. We are expecting 1,500 startups at this conference, and around 300 investors. That’s why we have a special startup and investor programme.
As for the market itself, I think there is some feeling of a comeback, but there is also a lot of caution. In part, it is how companies build on local and national ecosystems, and positioning that in a more global way. Governments have to make sure they have the best environment for startups and investors to innovate and flourish. Companies should be able make the right connections to promote themselves in other countries. Creating the right ecosystem is the golden ticket to success.
What is exciting you about TNW’s conference programme this year?
I think everyone wants to see Edward Snowden and that session should be a really interesting one. There’s also a talk with the chief AI officer at IBM (Seth Dobrin) that could be very noteworthy too. And we’re also working on a few speakers still. There’s also the chief diversity officer of Meta (Maxine Williams), .which should be fascinating. But we also like to have some fun ones. At last year’s conference, we had Chris Ume with a deepfake of Tom Cruise online, which was really entertaining. Then there are appearances of people like (British make-up entrepreneur) Trinny Woodhall who is totally different from who you expect to see at a tech conference.
Are there any key trends or topics that you expect to play a major role at TNW this year?
Tech & Money is always a big topic for us. This year, we’ll have a lot of sessions about AI, which span several industries, and also ties into the whole metaverse discussion that is very big right now. Branching out from that, you have a lot of events and conferences springing up focussed on the metaverse and cryptocurrency or NFTs.
Healthcare and healthtech are also big topics of discussion this year, as is sustainability. A few that are creeping in, but I think we’ll see even more of in coming years, are quantum computing, cryptocurrency and NFTs.
TNW Confernece 2022 is all about the next tech, now. The question of how that next big technological trend fits into all these different industries is really interesting, the focus of our event.
Sustainability is a key consideration for enterprises at the moment. What are you doing this year to reflect that concern?
We’ve brought on board several speakers to cover the topic of sustainability. We have, for example, invited Anouk Schaap who is a conscious leadership coach. There is also a session with the senior director of sustainable development from Philips (Harold Tepper). So there is a lot of relevant content in our schedule.
Our programme team spends 80% of the time trying to get the right speakers, from a diversity point of view, to gender balance and also from a sustainability perspective.
One criticism of major conferences is that they are not always environmentally friendly. What steps has TNW taken to offset this?
Everything we do, we try to do as green as possible, from our policy on water bottles, to providing transport to the venue so we can reduce traffic. We also work with a lot of sustainable suppliers for things like food.
That said, we all know that conferences in general are not very environmentally friendly. So we try to offer a podium for sustainability. We also have a partnership with Treedom that helps us build a forest by planting a tree for every speaker.
Looking at the longer term, having a local ecosystem at the core of your event and copying that across a wider region, you can look at joining localised events instead of flying in from all over the world.
You mentioned blockchain and cryptocurrency is on the agenda this year. When new technologies are trending, how do you choose what level of coverage to give to them?
It is a big area of discussion for our team, and one we had earlier this year. There were a lot of NFT and Web3 events popping up. Several advisors were saying we need to get on top of this sector and own it, or we would lose it. Many of these events have over a thousand attendees because the people who follow that sector are so passionate about it.
We looked at it but said “no, we are TNW and we cover more general tech.” So we’re not going to focus on just one area, but we’re also not going to ignore the ways tech is evolving. We need to uncover the next trends in tech, but we would never bet on just one thing. We want to provide the overview of relevant topics that spans the whole industry.
Are there any tech topics that particularly excite you personally?
There’s a couple of things that I find super interesting.. I think one is probably quantum computing. NFTs and Web3, and how they play together is also fascinating – but quantum computing is a much more interesting subject on the longer term subject.
On the other side, there’s governmental policy and how to break the boundaries there. Just seeing how you can make connections, untangle the bureaucracy and move barriers, that’s what’s exciting to me.
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